For those who do not know, I live in the PacNW. I haven’t traveled a whole lot. I’ve never been to the places I’ve found myself this weekend (Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia, or Alabama, in that order). I had never met Mark, Adam or anyone else on this forum or in the tournament. I was very much the stranger in a seemingly lost world.
I landed in Louisville on Wednesday. Via numerous texts between Adam, Mark, and myself, I knew Mark was waiting for me and my slightly delayed flight. Once through the TSA lockdown (aka, the terminals) it almost seemed as if Mark and I recognized each other immediately. After the traditional “how ya doin’s” and whatnot, we gathered my 90lbs of luggage (60lbs tackle/gear, 30lbs clothes/sleeping bag) and headed immediately to Bass Pro Shops. I was eager to see a BPS for my first time. The nearest one to my home is about 700 miles away. On our way to BPS we coordinated a dinner with Adam, Brad and Gino to meet up after my shopping trip.
Shopping was fun. Never in my life had I seen so much bass gear. I was surprised to see what I consider salmon gear in the mix as well. After killing some time, changing dinner plans to a sooner time, I made it out of there for only $65 – mostly picking up some more soft plastics and a couple crankbaits.
Dinner was at Hooter’s just a short distance away. Here I met Adam, Brad and Gino (along with some significant others), enjoyed a few less-than-PacNW-standard-adult-beverages and some food. We tried to keep things as brief as possible so we could get to Mark’s, get the truck/trailer all loaded up with tackle, gear and, most importantly, kayaks. Mix in a few more adult beverages (at this point it didn’t matter to me if they were “good” or not), and this became kinda fun. I had shipped off a bunch of rods ahead of time, and it was a good opportunity to find room in the rest of my tackle for the new purchases from Bass Pro. Adam, Mark and Brad found it to be a good opportunity to make fun of some of the gear I had with me. Things like the largest spinner your have ever seen (no, really, its HUGE), 9″ swimbaits, and the like. All I could think – big baits = big fish, right?
We were looking at a 4am wakeup call, so pretty much called it good around midnight. Maybe it was 1am. Who knows, besides, it didn’t matter, I don’t think we got up till around 6am. Oops. Just a lil set back. We finished up loading the luggage and were on the road just after 7am. Google and TomTom both suggested 8 hour drives, so a 3pm arrival at Lake Harding was still a great time to get there and get camp situated.
The drive is, well, a long drive. Most of us were in and out of consciousness, but TomTom GPS kept us on the road. Snoring and horrible tails of odors that may or may not have been emitted by me before we left filled in the dead time.
As we pass from Tennessee to Georgia for the last time, I started seeing major disturbances in the force. No, it wasn’t the questionable boarded up flea markets, glimpses of fenders in chest-high lawns, it was the water. Every pond, river, stream (I think they call them “criks”) was just not right. The chick at Hardee’s wasn’t all that right either. Despite saying something to me, twice, I don’t think anyone could figure out a single word in her sentence.Trailer with yaks going to the GKF Tourney
After nearly 9 hours of driving, we were finally closing in on the lake. Off the main highway and on country roads there was a sudden realization – three of us still needed fishing licenses. Uh Oh. I knew there was a WalMart not too far out of the way, and we mapped it out – about a 20-30 minute detour. Our route change put us over the Chattahoochee River (source of Lake Harding) and the water was not right. It was high, and moving fast, but that was the least of my concern. Crossing the river also put us in Alabama, and all of the sudden I had the urge to do improper things to my sister. I guess its in the air, not the water….
So, we land at WalMart in the lil town of Valley, Alabama. I never went inside. Instead, I let Mark, Brad, and Adam go in and get their licenses and a bit of grub to take care of dinner. I opted to baby-sit the kayaks and bask in the wonders of small-town-Alabama-WalMart-parking-lot. And I waited. And waited. And waited.
Mark was the first to emerge. Like any good angler, he came out with a new Abu Garcia reel, line, and the works. Turns out they had quite a few good clearance items inside due to some remodeling. I was tempted to go in and look at things myself, but I was eager to go. It wasn’t long before Adam and Brad arrived with a cart of food, some new fishing gear, and a $10 coffee pot – BRILLIANT!
Delayed by the visit to Alabama, we make it to the lake, and I’m feeling normal and unwilling to do improper things to family. At the lake we learn something new – Cash Only. Uh oh. Digging through our wallets, we didn’t have enough. The lovely lady working at the lake for the summer agreed to give us a pass to run our stuff to the site, then go get the cash we needed. We get down to the water. Oh no. The water.
Now, I’ve mentioned many times over that the water in Georgia didn’t look right. Little did I know, there was a silent sponsor this weekend – Nestle Quik. The water was nasty. Visibility was minimal at best. I could easily talk my niece and nephew into drinking this water, convincing them it was chocolate milk.
There was more to deal with – the site itself. We reserved an RV site because it had enough room for the truck, trailer, and Adam’s condo of a tent we needed for the four of us. The site, however, was a fine gravel. Tents were not allowed off the gravel. Air mattresses? No. Camping pads? No. Cash for campground? No. Strike three.
Ditching Brad and Adam to setup site, Mark and I headed back to WalMart. Cash and air mattresses were the order of business. We picked up a couple cheap queen-size air mattresses, pump, and cash and headed back to camp. Between the two of us, all we wanted to see was the site set, and food cooking.
After paying up, we found the tent setup, fire going, burgers on the grill. Awesome. The best way to end 12 hours of driving around. The cold beers helped too. Brad even managed to get a line in the water, hoping to maybe find some catfish from the bank. We spent the night hanging at the campfire, playing with gear, and getting excited for the tournament weekend.
The next morning we slowly emerged from the tent to find the waters were still nasty. Fortunately we had fire again to warm up in the chilly air, and hot coffee in the coffee pot. We worked slowly to get kayaks rigged up while eating a bit of breakfast and everyone complained of how little sleep they got. Seems I might have been a cross between a bear and a chainsaw. We planned on getting out to start some pre-fishing and to get an idea what we were in for with this lake. This was going to pretty much be Brad’s first time fishing from a kayak.
I was getting my gear setup in Mark’s Ocean Kayak Trident 11, when I found a few, um, problems with my stuff. First off, one of my rods had a busted rod guide. Great. It was likely caused by rattling around on the bottom of the trailer, hard to say. Then there were more rod problems! I had the bottom section of one rod, and the top section of another. Ug. I’m now down 2 rods. I tie up the remaining rods and it was time to get fishing.
We paddled out of our little cove area and were quickly met with some swift moving water. It was clear that Georgia Power was trying to make some money, and had the dams wide open. Actually, I suppose it could have been a bit of flood control action too. Brad and Adam swung into the first cove we passed, and I found myself riding the current into the next. The water was moving and it didn’t take long. It seemed like some pretty fishy water, despite the fact you couldn’t see into it. Mark continued down a bit further.
I worked the area heavily. I fished the top, middle and bottom of the water. I fished rocks, logs, out to the mouth, onto the bank, the works. Nothing. I’m not even sure I snagged at all. Just as I was feeling convinced that there was no life in the area, I felt something.
Ok, I’ve had enough. I had to use the bathroom anyways, was out of coffee, and was ready to head back for a bit and stretch. It was this point that I realized I had bit of a problem. I was going to have this problem for the rest of the weekend. The Trident 11 doesn’t fair well when fighting a current like this. I swear the little cove I was in was no more than a 5 minute paddle from the camp site. But, going from cove to campsite was closer to an hour. I kept a watch for eddies and used them to help propel me in the direction I was trying to paddle. I also knew this was going to make for some tough fishing the tournament the next day.
Right about the time I made it to camp, thunder rattled the area. It wasn’t long before Mark, Adam and Brad made it back and the rain really started to come down. All huddled together, standing under the vestibule of Adam’s tent, and the rain was still nailing us. The mesh walls offered no protection. The rain did give us a bit of time to look at our situation for the weekend, and we decided we needed to make another run to WalMart and stop by a little bait shop that Google suggested was near there. Brad stayed at camp to clean up and fish a bit, and the rest of use piled into the truck and headed for Alabama.
WalMart was no big thing, and we picked up some more beverages and a jar of stinkbait for Brad. From there we headed to the bait shop. It was very close to WalMart, and we did pass it up the first time by, but a quick u-turn had us back on target.
Words cannot describe, nor even prepare you for the glory that was this shop.
To begin with, it was a gas station. The pumps had a good lineup of cars, so it was a pretty popular gas station. People would come in, pay their tab, and leave. They never seemed to notice the variety of reels on display right there on the counter. To the left they had a full archery outfit. Targets, a few dozen compound bows, and more shafts and points than you could shake a stick at.
To the right was where you could find the real glory. A couple rows of fishing tackle, camo, guns, ammunition, boiled peanuts and lingerie.
Yes, in amongst the gear there were two pots of boiled peanuts. They were pretty good too! Course, I had never had them before, but had long been curious.
Fortunately, they also had live bait, shiners, which we were pretty sure we were going to need. So we picked up a bait bucket and 5 dozen shiners, and headed back to camp. Rains had slowed greatly, so I was itching to get back on the water too.
I paddled around some, pitching a few different lures towards the bank, up under trees, and was getting nothing. Hmmm, sound familiar? I decided it was time to just kinda paddle around and found quite a few old catfish rigs hanging from trees, a couple jugs, and a noodle. Sweet! I grabbed some of them and went back to camp. Brad and I got them rigged up and set out for some more catfish. It would be great to catch something.
Early in the evening, the Captains’ Meeting just a few hours away, we headed up to help the Georgia Kayak Tournament Trail folks out. We stuffed captain’s bags with stickers, lures, and all sorts of good stuff. Tony, from GYTT, fed us for thanks and we were all set just before the meeting was to start. With enough time, we headed back to camp, and there’s Brad with a catfish. SWEET! He picked it up off the bait on one of the shiners. He released it rather than letting it become dinner. Oh well. Its still nice to know that there were, in fact, fish to be found.
We spent most of the night hanging out by the fire with KayakBassFishing.com member (and now on YakAngler staff!) Mark Wheeler. At some point I received my lake map. I ordered it long before the tournament, and finally got a hold of it the night before. Instantly I found myself with a new plan. I was pretty certain, originally, I just needed to anchor up somewhere and toss shiners for catfish. Now I thought about heading to the other end of the lake. It looked like about a 4 mile paddle, each way. I also knew that the current would help me get to the end rather quickly, and I was able to calculate I was going to need around 2 hours to paddle back.
Morning of the tournament I thought I had plenty of time to get things going. I re-tied some of my gear, rearranged how I had the yak setup, grabbed some food and water, and everyone else was off in a hurry. Just as I hopped in the boat to join them, I heard the horn blasting the official start of the tourney. Great. Originally scheduled for 8AM, it was announced at the captains meeting that they’re going for “first safe light.” That light came almost 30 minutes early. Somehow I managed to catch up with folks at the line, but I was still just a lil late. Mark opted to join me in my lake tour.
I headed straight for the current line, and could tell right away that it wasn’t moving as swiftly as it was before. The rumors were true – Georgia Power closed up the dams so we could fish more safely. It was still moving fast enough to get me moving though. We stopped at one major hole that created a deep eddy. Try as we might, we couldn’t find anything in the vicinity. As we gave up there and continued on, we looked across the lake and saw a powerboat anchored up at the bank. There was a crew onboard that seemed to be nailing catfish. We made way their direction, anchored up about 100 yards south of them, and tried the same. After coming up empty handed, it was time to keep going. I wanted to get down to the end before I ran out of time.
I hopped back into my kayak-aqua-vator and headed south as quickly as I could. The lake widened out and there was a HUGE flats area just a couple feet deep. The current did well to go around this, but stopped to throw a few lures. I gave up pretty quickly. I worked my way back to the main stream and continued on. When I looked back, Mark was gone. I found another nice deep eddy, anchored up, threw my last shiner in the water (Mark had the bucket) and waited. And Waited. Nothing. No sign of him. I pulled anchor and kept on going. He was the last person and kayak I saw.
Making a beeline for the end of the lake, I made mental notes of coves, docks, islands, current eddies, etc. It wasn’t too long before I saw the end, confirmed my GPS marks, and started fishing some spots I had marked out on the map.
I don’t know what was happening up north, but things went south in a hurry. The rain was pelting me, and wind was blowing me across the water and off my marks. I persisted and fished my first area for awhile. I paddled across the lake to my next mark. Turns out there were a small island with a house on it – i don’t remember seeing that on my GPS. It was pretty cool, and wish I had taken photos, but I was too busy tournament fishing. Again, nothing
I picked up and headed for the first of a few islands that were in the middle of the lake. The current flow down here was much lower than it was up at the top of the lake, but I still tried the ends of the islands. Heavy rains were still coming down, and the lack of fish started to combine and wear on me mentally.
I opted to take a quick break on one of the islands. I needed a quick stretch, rest and bite to eat. It was a good time to regroup, figure out a new plan, and start making my way back. I tied up some new baits and made way once again.
The going was rough. The current, though lighter than the day before, was still pushing against me. The weather was anything but nice. And I wasn’t making ground like I wanted. My trolling speed was good, but I was putting in too much effort to keep it that way. This was going to be a harder ride than I had planned. I was trolling two lures, and was focusing sharp dropping banks, current breaks and creek mouths and coves. I had two other rods setup with other baits that I was casting up into the mouths and coves while I was on the run. I enjoyed every eddy I could find which would help me move where I wanted to go, and allowed me to fish areas more thoroughly.
Just about halfway back I was getting “the call” again, and this time it was urgent. I spied an old boat launch that split a couple small coves. I was gonna fish them anyways, so it was a good spot to take that rest break. The urgency was getting more and more assertive and I was barely able to note that the sonar marked a few fish in the middle of the fist cove, just about 50yards from the launch. These were some of the only fish the sonar had shown, and they were appropriately hanging out in the mouth of the cove.
Once regrouped and back on the kayak, I passed back over the area where I saw the marks the first time. Looked like they were still in the neighborhood! How was my time? I think I can comfortably fish this spot for 20 minutes before I MUST get back to paddling, or I’d be late for check-in.
I drifted back out the mouth, and put the fish right in crossfire of me and my casts. I dropped anchor and got started.
They were just off the bottom, so I didn’t bother throwing top water. I started with spinners, working just under the surface. Then I let them drop a bit further. Nothing. Ok, crankbait time. I started kinda shallow again, with just a 4′ depth. Nothing. Ok, lets go to an 8′. This one is gonna run right through them, if not just below them. Cast out, and begin a twitchy, erratic retrieve. Nothing. I switch up to a lipless crank. I love these baits, and I feel like I should have started with it. I start up a fan-cast pattern. Oh man, how much time do I have left? I’m about out of time. I have just enough time to try a swim bait. A few casts in, and I’ve gotta call it a bust. I need to get back to camp.
I get back to my troll, and start pushing back up the lake. I haven’t seen another boat, let alone a kayak, in hours. I was starting to really wonder what was going on up where everyone else was. I really hope I’m going to make it back.
I came around a bend and found myself back at the flats where I lost Mark. I paddled up, right on the main current, right along the edge of the flats. The going was tough, but this was probably where I’d find fish. I was barely moving when I heard my Emmrod rattling away in the flush mount. It had been a long time since I heard that sound, but I knew what it was…
I would have to say this was the most excited I had been all weekend. There was a good fight, but I knew this wasn’t a huge striper. I didn’t care though, it was a fish, and the long paddle was no longer a waste. It was nice, now, that I was alone; no one around to hear my screams of excitement.
At the boat, it turned out to be a striper after all! No, not the bad boy I was hoping to catch, but it was a striper. I grabbed my necessary tournament photo, and got a couple shots on my iPhone. I released him, sent the photo off to Adam, who was quick to reply that I needed something more than that. Darn.
I had drifted back nearly a half mile backwards, so it was time to get back on the uphill troll. The good thing was that I would be passing back through the same spot I caught the last fish. Hopefully there would be more.
I passed back through the zone to find nothing. It was OK, because I had a long stretch to get through, and if the pattern was good, there was ample opportunity for more fish. But, no such luck.
But, the good thing was that I was getting closer to camp. I knew I was just about 2 miles away, and I had just over an hour to get there. I’ve been paddling almost 2mph, and it was taking all I could to maintain that speed. I had to keep things at that speed to make it back in time, but it would make trolling less effective.
Another nice thing was that I saw my first fellow kayaker in hours! I still don’t know who it was, but they kept about a quarter mile ahead of me the whole time. He also seemed to be making better time with his longer kayak. I ran up along docks that I’m sure others hit very heavily throughout the day. I swung across to where Mark and I had stopped to do a bit of catfishing that morning. After getting tired of working though that current, I crossed back to the other side where there were eddies to help push me upstream.
Time was getting close. While in one of the eddies, I took the time to bring the lines up. There wasn’t time to worry about them anymore. I had 15 minutes to get back.
I could see there were others still on the water too. They had started by going upstream (smart!) and were cruising back in. I was glad to know I wasn’t the last one.
I made it back into the cove at Blanton Creek Park, and the mental and physical exhaustion really hit me in the slack water. I could see a lot of guys were done fishing, and seemed to have been done for a long while. Kayaks were on cars already! I couldn’t believe it. I worked up all the energy I had to get going. I still had to check the fish in, and that was still a short distance away. As I passed the campsite, I saw Brad was there. We exchanged a few words; I don’t even recall what they were. I was beat.
I came around the corner to the weigh in and looked down at my GPS. 13 miles. I paddled 13 miles in a Trident 11, in current and poor weather. Ouch. I pulled the kayak up a bit onto dry land and ran up to check in. There was a short line, but I was there with 5 minutes to spare! A few others followed behind me. It was good to see that I wasn’t the last one. I was, however, the only one still wearing all my paddling gear, including my PFD.
While the fish wasn’t all that big, it turns out I had the only striper of the day! Sweet! It was a species I really wanted to catch too! Many others had nothing to check in at all. I was starting to feel better about the day. I headed back to the kayak and paddled around to camp.
I was surprised to see no one was there! I took the time to change my clothes, which was very welcoming. I sat down to enjoy a beer when Adam called me, wondering where I was. Turns out the awards ceremony was starting already! I had to grab my camera and head back to weigh in.
The short time at camp seemed to do well for me, and I was there fairly quickly. Raffle prizes were given away, and Team YakAngler did very well! Chip (TreeHugger) went away with a whole case of 303 UV Protectent. I want to say there were a few others to. Then it was time for the big stuff.
In the youth category, it was a 3 way tie. No one had a fish, so it was up to a drawing. Chip’s son, Bradley, was the big winner of a brand new, red, Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120. I was so jealous. The first kayak I kinda fell in love with was a red Tarpon 140.
I don’t recall the rest of the winners, but it was easy to see the fishing was tough. The winner came back with a bass and a catfish, while most people with fish had one or the other. I kinda figured the winner would have a 2 fish bag too. I did have the only striper of the day, and fished in the 7th spot.
With all the prizes given away, the crowd dispersed rather quickly. People were packing up and heading home already, and I was so glad we had chosen to stay another night. I welcomed the early night and was looking forward to some rest. We packed up as much as we could before dark, and spent some time hovering around the fire.
The night was a quite one.
We woke the next morning ready to hit the road. We packed up what remained, said our thanks and good-byes to the crowd that remained, and got out of there.
The first stop was a short distance away. Food. We needed real food, and only one place was going to suffice. Waffle House. We had a craving. We wiped out breakfast with a quickness, and soon we were back on the road. With Brad and Mark passed out in food comas in the back seat, Adam and I ticked the miles down up front.
We made great time, right up until we hit Memphis. We had a couple miles of stop-and-go-traffic that we didn’t anticipate. C’mon, folks, this is a Sunday! Turns out there was a college basketball playoff game in town, which drew a bunch of people from Kentucky. Once we got through the initial congestion, we were swiftly counting down the numbers again.
It wasn’t long before we made it back to Louisville, and we made the return trip several hours faster than we had just a few days earlier. Awesome. We took our time getting things unloaded at Mark’s and then did the same at Adam’s. It was just nice to be back in a familiar environment and civilization.
The next day, while rushing around before heading to the airport, I took a moment to check on my flight. Oh, wait. What do ya know. I’ve still got all day! What I thought was a 10am flight turned out to be a 2pm flight. I’m not sure how that happened. With more time to spare than we thought, Adam took me around to the Post Office so I could ship stuff back home, then we went back for a bit of breakfast and let Adam get a couple hours of work in before running me to the airport.
I guess this is a good time to call this report done. It was a great time. I have to again thank Adam and Mark, as well as the rest of Team YakAngler for the great weekend; Tony Narcisse and the rest of the crew at Georgia Kayak Fishing for the tournament series. I just wish I could fish the whole series!